Perfect Peanuts: Reviewing the Latest Releases from Fantagraphics’ ‘Peanuts’ Library
As the Peanuts' 65th Anniversary year winds down, Peanuts-related news seems to be ramping up. The Peanuts Movie hits theaters this weekend, and every preview and trailer manages to look better than the last; Charles Schulz's birthday is coming up on November 26th; the United States Postal Service unveiled a new Forever stamp; there's a new tribute book out on the stands, which we reviewed yesterday; and Charlie Brown and the gang even appeared in the seventh-inning stretch of Game 2 of the World Series.
When it comes to Peanuts news, though, Fantagraphics is taking the crown. The curators of the complete Peanuts library have three new hardcover releases coming up just in time for the holidays: Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, the full-color Peanuts Every Sunday: 1961-1965, and The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998, and all three are worthy of addition to your collections.
When Fantagraphics landed the exclusive rights to the entire Peanuts catalog, it was both a real coup for the publisher --- better-known for adult-oriented non-genre comics --- and an incredible boon for purists, completists, and devotees of Charles Schulz. In his incredible fifty-year marathon on Peanuts, 'Sparky' crafted a massive collection of strips totaling nearly eighteen thousand, and prior to Fantagraphics' acquisition, thousands of them had to yet to be reprinted. Gary Groth and the team at Fanta began turning out editions in 2004, and eleven years later, the finish line is in sight, with the final years of the run set to hit bookshelves in 2016.
Even when all the Complete Peanuts is published, though, there's still plenty of room for more collections, as proven by Snoopy Vs. The Baron. As advertised, this book collects every "Red Baron" entry in Schulz's cannon, collating one very specific aspect of Peanuts and digging out a new narrative for readers to follow from beginning to end. While one hopes this doesn't lead to a litany of titles like Charlie Vs. Lucy, and Kite Vs. Tree, there are still many storylines and themes to pick out and gather in new compendiums in the years to come.
Though this collection might not be as pleasing to the sort of purists who thought the strip's focus on Snoopy led to its downfall, those people need to open their hearts to a little more whimsy. Sure, Peanuts was at its best when concentrating on the complex emotions and relationships of its main characters, but there's something joyful and pure about Schulz's excursions into the inner life of an anthropomorphized dog, who really is a perfect foil for the permanently disappointed Charlie Brown, and brings necessary shades to a comic frequently concerned with feelings of insignificance.
In Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, you see Schulz exalting the power of imagination, self-assuredness, and hope, and it's a fun collection with several excellent strips. As an added bonus, this book brings together all of Schulz's Veterans' Day comics and tributes to Bill Mauldin, including this entry, the only panel in all of Peanuts containing work by someone other than Schulz:
Collecting all the Sunday strips in full-color from the period widely regarded as Schulz's best, the oversized coffee table book Peanuts Every Sunday: 1961-1965 is stuffed with classics; those complex emotions and realistic relationships alluded to earlier. This is vintage Schulz at a time when he had perfected his style and voice; Peanuts idealized.
When you think of Peanuts, this is really the primary era; these are the gags and conflicts that come to mind, with the versions of the characters that would become iconic, in Schulz's energetic and economical lines. Even Schulz's earliest work shows his predilection for simplicity, but by the early 1960s, he had developed a looseness and confidence that approached perfection, with relaxed lines and mere gestures of backgrounds that allowed his characters to ingratiate themselves to millions of readers.
Although Peanuts really is best-experienced when reading several daily strips at once --- where you could see Schulz work through stories, moods, and themes over the course of those weeks --- the Sunday strips still feature the unique blend of elements that made it a classic. All the gags, social commentary, whimsy, and biting honesty came together in simple, rhythmic page designs and vibrant primary colors. This collection is a particularly good one, with one great strip after another.
Finishing up the gaggle of Fantagraphics' new releases is the penultimate installment in their complete collection, The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998. While you wouldn't find many who would compare this edition favorably to any of his work from the late 50s through the 60s, there was still so much Schulz had to offer in the twilight of his career. Yes, by then, Schulz was repeating himself a little (nobody could avoid that in fifty years of daily strips); a tremor had entered his previously clean lines; occasionally he would seem a little old-fashioned. But he still had the spark that made him Sparky, and was still capable of producing brilliant strips, like this one from December 30th, 1997.
Like every book in Fantagraphics' Peanuts library, Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, Peanuts Every Sunday 1961-1965, and The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998 are all impeccably-designed and of the highest-quality; not just books made to last for years, but impressive art objects that pay proper tribute to Charles M. Schulz, his work, and his impact on the culture at large. Any one of these books would make a fantastic gift for friends and family this holiday season, whether they're devotees, casual readers, or the next generation of fans who will exit movie theaters on November 6th, ready for more.
Note: Copies of these titles were provided by Fantagraphcis for review.